IMAGE OF THE DAY: Orion Comes Home to Earth, Recovered by NASA’s Landing and Recovery Team and U.S. Navy

Orion will be transported back to Kennedy Space Center for post-flight analysis

IMAGE OF THE DAY: At 12:40 p.m. EST, Dec. 11, 2022, the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a 25.5-day mission to the Moon. Flight controllers in mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston spent about two hours performing tests in open water to gather additional data about the spacecraft.

Orion was then recovered by NASA’s Landing and Recovery team, U.S. Navy, and Department of Defense partners aboard the USS Portland. Recovery personnel also spent time collecting detailed imagery of the spacecraft before beginning to pull the capsule into the USS Portland’s well deck.

The ship will soon begin its trip back to U.S. Naval Base San Diego, where engineers will remove Orion from the ship in preparation for transport back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for post-flight analysis. Orion is expected to arrive to shore Dec. 13.

WATCH LIVE: The crew module of NASA’s Orion spacecraft has successfully separated from its service module at 11:00 a.m. CST in preparation for the crew module’s return to Earth. The service module will burn up harmlessly in Earth’s atmosphere upon re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA – The crew module of NASA’s Orion spacecraft has successfully separated from its service module at 11:00 a.m. CST in preparation for the crew module’s return to Earth. The service module will burn up harmlessly in Earth’s atmosphere upon re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

The Artemis I trajectory is designed to ensure any remaining parts do not pose a hazard to land, people, or shipping lanes.

Next, the crew module will perform a skip entry technique, dipping into the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere and using that atmosphere, along with the lift of the capsule, to skip back out of the atmosphere, then reenter for final descent under parachutes and splash down.

This technique enables the spacecraft to accurately and consistently splash down at the selected landing site for Artemis missions regardless of when and where they return from the Moon. During re-entry, the enormous heat generated as Orion encounters the atmosphere turns the air surrounding the capsule into plasma, which will briefly disrupt communications with the spacecraft.

Below are the upcoming re-entry milestones in CST:

■ 11:20:14 p.m. – Crew Module Entry Interface
■ 11:35:28 p.m. – Altitude 40,000 feet
■ 11:36:02 p.m. – Forward Bay Cover Chute Deploy
■ 11:36:06 p.m. – Drogue Chute Deploy
■ 11:37:26 p.m. – Main Chute Deploy
■ 11:39:41 p.m. – Splashdown

Earth’s atmosphere initially will slow the spacecraft to 325 mph, then the parachutes will slow Orion to a safe splashdown speed of 20 mph or less as it descends through Earth’s atmosphere. Parachute deployment begins at an altitude of about five miles with three small parachutes pulling the forward bay covers away. Once the forward bay cover separates, two drogue parachutes will slow and stabilize the crew module for main parachute deployment. At an altitude of 9,500 feet and a spacecraft speed of 130 mph, three pilot parachutes will lift and deploy the main parachutes to slow Orion to a landing speed that ensures astronaut safety for crewed missions.

When Orion splashes down, the crew module uprighting system, also known as CMUS, deploys a series of five bright-orange helium-filled bags on the top of the capsule to upright the capsule in the event it stabilizes upside down.

The system will deploy regardless of the landing position of the capsule, and it takes less than four minutes to upright the capsule if needed. The capsule must be upright for crew module communication systems to operate correctly and to help protect the health of the crew members inside on future missions.

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